Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The History

From ancient times Carmel felt––one could say––the need of being the mountain of

the Virgin Mary, becoming a symbol of Her. And this for three obvious reasons: because

of its beauty, because of the glory of God claimed on its summit and because of the

beginnings of the coenobitic life, of which it was witness.

That which firstly attracted the gaze of antiquity upon Carmel was none other than

its beauty. This mountain, or rather this small chain of mountains of Palestine, the principal

peak of which rises in the form of a promontory in front of the Mediterranean Sea, as if in

the shape of a watchful sentinel, presents three characteristics which, merging into one,

constitute the true beauty of nature, and these are namely: majesty, grace and melancholy.

Its summit is crowned with pines and with majestic trees, the slopes are embellished

with splendid and thriving vegetation and strewn with pleasant villages; its base, instead, is

bathed in the waters of the Phoenician Sea. A singular mountain, it immediately captured

the admiration of the Jewish people who, by means of the mouth of its great ones, sung of

its beauties. When the bridegroom of the Canticle of Canticles wished to express the

beauty of his bride, he did not believe he could express it better than by saying that her

head is like Carmel:  “Caput tuum ut Carmelus” (7:5). And when Isaiah wanted to

represent to us the splendour and the majesty of the future Messiah, he depicted Him

surrounded by the glory of Lebanon and re-clothed with all the beauty of Carmel: “Gloria

Libani data est ei, decor Carmeli et Saron” (35:2).

The sacred interpreters apply these similitudes to the Virgin Mary. And this is

correct, because indeed the beauty of Carmel, in its threefold character, represents

magnificently the beauty of Mary Most Holy. In Her we find the majesty of greatness,

namely the Divine Maternity, which is the supreme greatness to which a creature was ever

to be elevated; virginity replete with every grace and with every blessing, which is the

fruitful virginity of Mary before giving birth, during birth and after birth; and the sadness

of the greatest sorrow––well symbolised in that type of melancholy and of recollection that

arouses the contemplation of the mountain and of the sea––, which is the participation of

Mary in the human Redemption as Coredemptrix of the human race.

Nevertheless, that which rendered this mountain even more celebrated was the

victory which Elijah wrought over the prophets of Baal, claiming the glory and, with it, the

supreme rights of God.

But what relationship is there between this claim of the glory of God and the Virgin

Mary? Between this havoc of preachers of false divinity and She Who is the Mother of

divine grace and of mercy?... Three years before this great scene, Elijah had cast the

interdict over the countryside of Samaria, in punishment for the impiety of its king, Ahab,

saying: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall

be no dew or rain except at my word” (I Kings 17:1). Then, a frightening drought and

famine desolated Samaria: the torrents and springs dried up, and the earth became arid and

Once their pride had in this manner been exhausted, Elijah had to lead the people to

acknowledge and to confess the true God; and this he achieved through the bloody

slaughter of which the people themselves were witnesses and formed part. The fire of

Heaven had revealed the true God, the false prophets were punished terribly. And then

“Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, crouched down to the earth, and put his head

between his knees. ‘Climb up and look out to sea,’ he directed his servant, who went up

and looked, but reported, ‘There is nothing.’ Seven times he said, ‘Go, look again!’ And

the seventh time the youth reported, ‘There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from

the sea.’ Elijah said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, Harness up and leave the mountain before the

rain stops you.’ In a trice, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and a heavy rain

fell”(ivi 18:42-45).

Now, what happened, or rather, what did the Prophet see whilst remaining crouched

on the ground?...The secret of future things which this vision contained apart from the

historical fact, and the great mystery that God pre-announced by it to Elijah, the Prophet

deigned not to manifest publicly to all, but in a hidden manner to his disciples. From them

we know by means of tradition that God, by a symbolic vision, revealed to Elijah four

great mysteries: first, that a little girl would be born, who would leave the maternal womb

free from every sin; second, the time when this would happen; third, that this little girl

would embrace perpetual virginity after the example of Elijah; fourth, that God, taking

upon Himself human nature, would be born of that virgin. And indeed, the small cloud that

the servant of Elijah saw rising from the sea was a figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

Who, little by means of Her humility, would be born from this sea, that is, from sinful

human nature, but in a different manner, because at Her birth She would not be oppressed

by the bitterness of crimes, but, like that small cloud, would be light because of Her

immunity from sin and sweet due to being filled with charisms. She, in fact, in Her birth,

was that cloud which had been written of symbolically by Moses: “Then the cloud covered

the meeting tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling” (Ex 40:34).

The start of the Carmelite Order

On the slopes of Carmel the monastic life of the Carmelite Order had its beginning.

According to a pious tradition, the disciples of Elijah and Elisha dwelt in the limy caves of

the slopes of the mountain and there lived the hermitical life.

But what was the reason for this choice of place which was so precise, that they

were named the “Hermits of Mount Carmel”? Surely in that Palestine, which Elijah had

passed through in all senses, many other places, all impregnated with remembrances and

with graces of the great Prophet, could attract and detain those who aspired to the

succession of his spirit. The Cherith, on the banks of which Elijah had taken refuge by

order of God, offered them its living waters, considered, due to its having quenched for so

long the thirst of the Prophet, as a symbol of contemplation, for which they were avid.

Zarephath always spoke of the multiplication of the flour and oil and of the resurrection of

the son of the poor woman who gave shelter to the Prophet. And they could not even be

drawn to that region of the desert, a day’s journey from Beersheba, where Elijah, who had

become man again like us, had fallen asleep with a dejected spirit under the shade of a

juniper tree and, awakened twice by the Angel, had been by him refreshed with miraculous

bread that had allowed him to walk forty days in the desert until he reached Horeb, the

mountain of God par excellence? And ought this mountain not to attract them irresistibly,

in as much as it is a witness of the most exalted manifestations between God and Moses

and upon which, in a theophany of great style, the prophet Elijah himself had perceived, at

the testimony of St. John of the Cross, the divine essence itself in the breath of a gentle

Finally, it would have been an excellent choice for these hermits to have established

themselves on the banks of the Jordan, in those places where Elisha had picked up the

mantle of the Prophet, as a guarantee on the part of the firstborn son, and which was due to

him as the spiritual inheritance of his father who had vanished on a chariot of fire.

Surely the hermits were not insensitive to remembrances so rich in grace for them;

nevertheless it is on Mount Carmel that they established themselves.

In order to discover all the value and the meaning of this choice, one may reflect

that, between Horeb, pedestal of the dazzling and most sublime manifestations of God to

Moses and Elijah, and Carmel, where, in the shade of a symbolic vision, it was permitted

that a glimpse of the Virgin bearing the Messiah be seen, these austere and great

contemplatives did not hesitate. They that, at the testimony of St. Teresa, had such

complete contempt for the world, and who had proceeded to a place of such profound

solitude in order to find the precious pearl of contemplation, had settled on Carmel, near

the fountain of Elijah, in order to drink at the same fountainhead of light as their father.

Aspiring to something else, apart from the most sublime perception of God in His

essence at Horeb, they wanted to find the twofold living reality, announced by the

symbolic vision of Carmel.

It is, therefore, in order to discover the Virgin Mary, and at the same time Christ,

that the sons of Elijah came together on Mount Carmel; and it is in order to merit this grace

and to welcome Her that their contemplative gaze opened unceasingly onto the

supernatural horizons.

Nevertheless, this cult and this way of life, lived in the practice of poverty and of

penance, under the auspices of the Virgin Mary, foreseen in the figure of the small cloud,

could not remain without reward. And it was precisely on the sacred day of Pentecost that

these hermits of Mount Carmel, seeing how in those times that which, as a privilege, God

had revealed to their predecessors by means of the vision of Elijah, would be

accomplished, that is, the birth of a little girl, who would leave the maternal womb free

from every stain of sin and who, imitating them, would choose  voluntary virginity and

from whom would be born the Messiah, decided to be baptised by the Apostles.

Considering, then, how the human race would receive from the Son of God, through

the Virgin Mary, the longed for benefit of the rain, that is, of grace, they took care to serve

this Virgin with constant devotion. They undertook, therefore, to venerate Her in such a

way that, before everything else, they dedicated to Mary Most Holy whilst She was still

living, a Chapel, and they erected it at that very spot where Elijah had contemplated the

small rising cloud, an illustrious figure of the Virgin. There, from that time forth, they

gathered together, honouring with pious rites, with prayers and praises, the Most Blessed

Virgin as their singular Patron. There, moreover, they remained in humble conversation

upon the Word of God, the faults to avoid and the salvation of souls to procure. On account

of which, even those foreign to their religion, from that time forth, began always to call

them “Brothers of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel.”

Admirable disposition of divine Providence: the first Chapel dedicated to the divine

Mother was precisely that of Mount Carmel. The Virgin Herself, in a certain manner, thus

took possession of the title of Carmel, of that mountain which already in ancient times,

under various aspects, had prefigured and symbolized Her.

Such, then, was the first origin of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount

The connection between the historical facts and actual

Devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Having known the connection between Carmel and the divine Mother, a question

spontaneously arises: what connection is there between the historical facts and actual

devotion to the Virgin of Carmel? And what connection is there with the little habit of

Carmel, which is worn out of devotion to Her?

The coenobites of Carmel had perpetuated themselves, according to tradition, living

as anchorites and venerating in a special manner the Blessed Virgin.

History replaced the pious tradition in about the XII and XIII Century. In the XII

century, in fact, during the Latin reign of Jerusalem, many pilgrims coming from Europe

united themselves to the solitaries of Carmel. In about 1150 a priest from Calabria, named

Berthold, climbed that sacred mountain and restored one of the monasteries already

From that time forth, that family of anchorites developed greatly; Berthold obtained

as first, from the Patriarch of Antioch and Apostolic Legate, Almerico Malafaida, the title

of Prior General, and all the monks dwelling in those caves of the biblical mountain were

placed under his authority. St. Brocard succeeded him in the government, who in 1210

gave to the great Carmelite Family a rule fixed by Bl. Albert of Parma. Towards the year

1238 they spread to Cyprus and Sicily, and through the benevolence of the princes of the

crusade, also to other parts of Europe.

These hermits were respected by the Muslims due to their devotion towards Elijah,

this Prophet being venerated also by them. But then such tolerance came to an end and

their presence on Carmel became dangerous; because of this Alan, Prior General, in the

year 1245 decided upon the immigration to Europe. In the same year in the first chapter

held––at Aylesford––in England, Simon Stock was elected Superior General.

He had laboured much in order to obtain from the Holy See the formal approval of

the Order, which was granted on January 30

From this time forth the real progress and true life of the Carmelite Order had its

beginnings: from being hermits, the Carmelites became coenobites, and their coenobiums

multiplied rapidly.


 1226, by Pope Honorius III.

St. Simon Stock and the Brown Scapular

Together with these, both in the East and in Europe, devotion to the Virgin of

Carmel started to spread, and in 1251, the same Virgin, to Whom St. Simon Stock was

very devoted, deigned to make him see a sign of love and protection, which She would

ever grant to the holy Order that he directed. In fact, on the night between July 15

, the Saint was at Cambridge, in his cell, when a heavenly light wholly inundated him.

Simon threw himself on his knees and raised his hands beseechingly towards Heaven. And

behold, in the midst of that light, appeared the Blessed Virgin Mary Who, presenting him a

scapular that She held in Her hand, said to him these words, which later he wrote and sent

to all the religious of the Order: “Most beloved son, receive the scapular of your Order, the

sign of my Confraternity, a privilege for you and for all the Carmelites. Whomsoever shall

die clothed with it shall be freed from eternal fire. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in

danger, a pledge of peace and of eternal alliance.”

The Christians immediately had great devotion towards the scapular of Carmel, a

devotion which continued to increase, when in 1316, during the long widowhood of the

Church on account of the death of Clement V, the Queen of Carmel appeared to James

d’Euse and, in announcing to him his proximate elevation to the Supreme Pontificate,

recommended him to spread devotion towards and confidence in Her scapular, because

She had granted it for the salvation of the faithful, adding that they who would die with

the little habit would be quickly freed by Her from the pains of Purgatory and conducted

into Paradise on the Saturday following their death. John XXII, moreover, promoted this

privilege, so called the  Sabatine privilege, with a bull, in which the Most Holy Virgin

promised these three things: Her descent into Purgatory:  “I, the Mother of Grace, will

come down on the Saturday after their death”; the pardon of the punishment and of the sin

at the moment of their death: “Thus the professed brothers of the said Order are absolved

from punishment and from sin, and this on the day on which they depart from this world”;

and the freedom from the pains of Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death: “I, the

Mother of Grace, will come down on the Saturday after their death and will free those

whom I will find in Purgatory and will conduct them to the holy mountain of eternal life.”

The descent of the Virgin to Purgatory ought not to be understood as Her personal

presence, as if every Saturday, leaving the glorious throne in the empyrean Heaven, She

would come down personally into Purgatory; but with Her virtual presence, so to say;

Her intercession or help, with which She aids the suffering souls. But even if Mary Most

Holy does not descend personally to Purgatory, nonetheless it must be the presence of Her

power and of Her most efficacious intercession, which the souls experience in that place of

The pardon of the punishment and of sin, at the moment of death, ought not to be

understood in the sense that it would free from some mortal or venial faults, because this

indulgence, as any other, is valid only for the remission of the punishment. Nevertheless it

is said to be conceded in remission of the sin and of the punishment in order to signify that

whoever obtains it must be free from the bonds of sin and of punishment: of the sin with

absolution or with contrition; of the punishment directly through the indulgence.

Lastly, the promise of freedom of the souls on the first Saturday after their death

concerns the benefit of the liberation and the time in which it happens.

All these favours promised us by the blessed Virgin under the title of Carmel, are

recalled precisely with the present Feast, which was extended to the entire Church by the

Dominican Pope Benedict XIII.

What are the conditions necessary in order to enjoy the two favours which the Most

Blessed Virgin, in Her immense mercy towards the Carmelites, has promised them?

The first privilege, as has been said, is the grace of final perseverance, expressed in

various ways: the freedom from the torments of Hell, a good death, the assurance of

Paradise. In order to enjoy this privilege it is necessary: to belong to the pious Association

or the Confraternity of Carmel; to lead a Christian and devout life; to always wear devoutly

the holy scapular, and to be clothed with it at the point of death, in the act of breathing

The second privilege, also called the  Sabatine Privilege, is that of the solicitous

liberation from the pains of Purgatory after death. In order to enjoy this second favour,

apart from the conditions already required for the preceding one, it is necessary: to observe

chastity according to one’s state in life; to recite every day the little Office of the Blessed

Virgin Mary and to observe the fasts established by the Church. They, then, who cannot

read any more––being unable to recite the little Office of the Blessed Virgin––should

abstain from meat on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays of every week. It is to be noted,

however, that the abstinence from meat may not be freely chosen, in such a way that each

one may either recite the Office or not eat meat on the three aforementioned days; that is

only established for those who are not able to read. They, however, who are able to do so,

must recite the little Office. In the event, however, that they would not be able––for other

reasons––to recite the Office, and being unable to observe the said abstinences, should ask

a priest who has the faculty or the confessor, the changing of this obligation into another

good work. Generally such duty is usually changed to the recitation of seven Pater and Ave

in honour of the seven joys of the Virgin Mary in Heaven. 

The first privilege, moreover, embraces various favours that are at the same time the

justification of the privilege itself as well as a splendid defense against the attacks of

incredulity and of ignorance; favours that have been manifested by the very words of Mary

Most Holy, Who said thus to Her servant: Receive this scapular as a distinguishing mark,

it is the special sign of my favour…” From these words it can already be understood that

we are not to place any intrinsic power in the scapular in itself; it is nothing but a

distinguishing mark, a sign, composed of two pieces of cloth of brown wool, united by

means of two strings.

Certain persons, however, say: “Why choose, as a distinguishing mark, an object so

ordinary, or rather an object which is so simple?”

If God would have consulted these learned ones on the plan that He had to become

incarnate, they would have rejected such a design as being great foolishness. What would

have happened if He had said to them: “This flesh taken from the womb of a woman, I will

conserve it eternally, I will exalt it with Me in glory, I will give it for you to adore on the

altars and to eat on an altar?”... Now, since Jesus has constituted the material and the

sensible signs as means of grace, what impropriety can we find in a material object chosen

by the Blessed Virgin and constituted as a distinguishing mark of an association that She,

in a singular manner, protects?

That the scapular is an ordinary and simple object is true; but we also know that one

of the virtues that is most wanting in the world is precisely humility. Well, even if we

consider this scapular to be so ordinary, it preaches to us the necessity of humility and of

simplicity and it tells us eloquently that it is a distinguishing mark of the protection of

Mary Most Holy, or rather, that an indispensable means to please Her is precisely humility,

united to simplicity.

However, if the scapular is a lowly thing and nothing in itself, it is something great

as a sign, because it is a symbol of one’s devotion towards the Virgin Mary; it is a sign and

symbol that She is pleased with and She protects in a singular manner whoever practices

Moreover, in this humble little habit we see once again and feel the love that the

heavenly Mother shows to them that wear it.

In the Sacred Scriptures, the gift of the garment, of the habit, has always been

considered as a sign of a most singular love. Jacob loved with a singular love his son

Joseph and to show him this love he had made for him a tunic woven in various colours.

Jonathan bound himself with great love to David, and he gave him not only the bow and

the sword, but also the tunic and the other necessary garments. The Virgin Herself, Who

with Her hands made the seamless tunic of Her divine Son Jesus, gave likewise, to St.

Simon Stock, the little habit of Carmel, this garment so simple, as a distinguishing mark

and special sign of love.

Now it is spontaneous for us to ask: do we appreciate this gift of Mary Most Holy,

the gift which She offers us as a special sign of Her love? But if we do appreciate it, we

ought also to understand that it is not enough just to accept it: it is necessary to receive it

with the sentiments with which the Holy Virgin offers it, that is, with the sentiment of

great veneration and of great love towards Her; and, that is why the little habit must be for

us a continuous appeal to the love of Mary Most Holy, to the covenant of love struck with

Let us clothe ourselves, therefore, with this scapular, let us wear it with the correct

dispositions, let us fulfill willingly the required conditions which are not burdensome, and

we will see how the Virgin of Carmel shall be our defense and the Paradise of our

homeland! And if it shall not be possible for us to avoid Purgatory completely, Mary Most

Holy shall also be our merciful liberator! She will speedily open for us its gates. She has

promised it; She will keep Her word if we merit it!


O Most Blessed and Immaculate Virgin, honour and splendour of Carmel, Thou Who

dost  look with particular kindness  upon all those who wear Thy blessed habit, gaze

benevolently also upon us and cover us with the mantle of Thy maternal protection. Fortify

our weakness with Thy power; enlighten the darkness of our mind with Thy wisdom;

increase in us faith, hope and charity. Reclothe our souls with such graces and virtues

that they may always be dear to Thy divine son and to Thee. Assist us in life, console us at

death with Thy most amiable presence, and present us to the most august Trinity as Thy

children and devoted servants, so that we may praise Thee and bless Thee eternally in

Paradise. So be it. 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel, pray for us.